The End And What Follows
There had been a short pain, then nothing. Sam Vimes got back onto his feet and was not even surprised to see his own body lying on he ground before him. He had known the moment he'd seen the spear flying toward him that he was not going to survive this.
At least it had been fast…
When he looked up, he saw that the world around him had changed. All sound had faded away and the colours had vanished to be replaced by various shades of red. A wind he had not noted before was tearing at his hair and clothes. Up in the sky the sun had become a watery red ball. Vimes stared at it in dismay. He had spent most of his life in the Night Watch – he'd never planned to end his existence at day.
Which brought him to the conclusion that his existence indeed had ended – and that he did not feel very none-existent anyway. Vimes never thought much about what would happen after he died before exactly that happened, but if he had ever bothered to imagine an afterlife, it wouldn't have been like this.
Even here, Ankh-Morpork was burning.
Vimes stared at the flames as if he hadn't seen them before and in a way he hadn't. For the first time he really took notice of his surroundings, in space and in time. The past came back to him, up to the events that led to him looking down onto is own body on the ground.
The war that had become the city's downfall had lasted for only two days. It wasn't even over yet but it would be in less than five hours if Sam was any judge, and there was not doubt which site would loose.
And it wasn't even their fault! The people of this city had a tendency to jump into any kind of trouble with a broad grin, a shout and a long club; combined with an invincible philosophy of "No one can beat us!" it was a miracle Ankh-Morpork had survived this long. Had their opponents knocked on the gates of the city and asked: Hey, we have a giant army and terrible weapons, would you like to fight a war against us? they wouldn't even have been able to finish the sentence. But they didn't knock on the gate. They just appeared, without warning.
He would have understood if the Ankh-Morporkians had got themselves killed because of their own stupidity, Sam thought. That was what he always expected, anyway. But they didn't even have a chance to make this their fault. It just wasn't fair!
Two days ago, no one here even thought of war and destruction and slaughter. There had been other things on their mind, because almost two months ago Lord Vetinari had disappeared all of a sudden, the watch had been busy looking for him, the guilds had been busy arguing over his replacement, the other lords had been busy sending the city even further into chaos and the everyone else had been busy watching the mess and hoping for something to tell their grandchildren.
Seemed like there wouldn't be any grandchildren now.
And suddenly it all made sense. Of course. He had already wondered how such a big army could appear in front of the gates without anyone knowing about it. Because Vetinari would have known. Vetinari knew everything. Vetinari knew things about you that you didn't know yourself. But he was gone, and in the chaos that followed nobody thought of the possibility that anyone might appear in a few days to wipe this city off the face of the disc. Whoever attacked them – and Sam realised with new bitterness that he didn't even know who it was – they did indeed have quite a good plan. And what was worse: it worked.
Why the hell didn't he think of this before?
BECAUSE BEING DEAD OPENS YOUR MIND FOR A LOT OF THINGS.
Vimes spun around at the sound of this voice and saw the speaker standing on a pile of rubble, a tall, black robed figure carrying a scythe. He wasn't surprised.
"So, this is it then," he said, looking in vain for any traces of the bitterness he thought he should be feeling. "Just like that."
And now? Sam was pretty sure that he was supposed to go somewhere, not to remain here in this red world of destruction. But here he was, and Death wasn't helping. In fact, he wasn't even looking into his direction anymore. It was only then that the former Duke of Ankh noticed another figure beside the great reaper of mankind, which was surprising because that figure was clad in black as well and lacked any traces of the general redness surrounding it.
Sam stared. So Vetinari was dead as well. He had already suspected it for weeks, but seeing the proof still came as a shock. Somehow, the death of his often cursed ruler hit him much harder than his own.
Slowly Vimes walked over to the ruins in front of which Vetinari was kneeling on the ground, less than a ghost to the world of the living. The man met is gaze briefly and then he looked down. And Sam realised with new certainty that he was ashamed.
'He thinks this is his fault,' he realised, bewildered. Maybe what the skeleton had said was true and he really did see more that while alive, for he was sure he would not have noticed this before. But if he was right, how could Vetinari believe something this absurd? He should have known that there was nothing he… Or was there? After all Vimes had no idea what he had done in the past two months. But he knew deep down inside that this man would never knowingly have done something to harm the city. The city was his life.
Or had been, at least.
And suddenly Sam was at a loss for words.
"How long are you… I mean…" Vetinari pretended not to hear him and Vimes' voice trailed off. Something seemed so very wrong about this whole situation.
HE HAS BEEN DEAD FOR TWO DAYS, said Death helpfully. Vimes turned to look at him.
"Two days? Then why is he still here?"
The dark figure shrugged.
SOMETHING IS NOT GOING WELL HERE, it said, and managed to express a mixture of annoyance and mild worry while the tone of its voice didn't change at all. HE IS NOT MEANT TO BECOME A GHOST, I WOULD KNOW THAT. BUT HE APPEARS TO BE UNABLE TO LEAVE THIS PLACE. The words 'Do something about that' trailed unspoken behind. Apparently Death was someone who wanted to do his job right and Vimes felt he could like him for that.
"Why not?" he asked.
THE BOND IS TOO STRONG, IT SEEMS.
Sam looked back at the man he once thought he knew, if never understood. Maybe being dead opened your mind not only to thoughts but also to emotions, he thought. Imagine all those emotions this man always suppressed coming for him, in frond of a burning city… It would make sense, wouldn't it?
Somewhere nearby a large building collapsed and a low rumbling sound could be heard in the former soundlessness of this world. Vetinari turned to the source of the sound and Vimes thought that he looked downright desperate, lost. The wind appeared to have gotten stronger.
And what was he supposed to do now? Something in Death's words had implied that he would not leave here before Vetinari did, and he certainly had no interest in staying here. What was that skeleton still doing here, anyway, if he wasn't going to do anything helpful? Didn't he have something to do elsewhere? One should think so with all those people dying here. And if they all ended up here, Sam would expect this place to be pretty crowded by now. Which obviously it wasn't.
And he still didn't know what to do.
"Uhm… Sir?" he tried for a start and sat down on the ground in front of the other man. And Vetinari finally looked at him, his face carefully blank. "Sir Samuel," he greeted, as if he had not seen him before. "It seems the city truly is lost, when not even you managed to somehow survive this." How true – until today Sam had been impossible lucky when it came to not dying. Well, it just had to end someday…
"I could say the same to you," he grumbled. At least the man was talking to him – somewhat of an improvement, he thought, though he surely would have been of another opinion, had they been alive.
Another thought that had been lurking at the edge of his awareness came to his mind. "Two days…?" he mumbled. If Vetinari had died only two days ago, what the hell had he been doing all the time since his disappearance months ago? And how did he die, in fact?
He opened his mouth to pose exactly that question, but stopped himself when those two thoughts mixed up to form a new suspicion. 'Excuse me, but have you been tortured to death?' somehow didn't seem like the right thing to ask.
"Sir," he said instead. "There is nothing we can do here." The former Patrician looked right through him and apparently wanted to say something, but then he just closed his eyes and sighed, defeated. And Sam was back at the beginning.
Great. His boss seemed to have forgotten about his presence, Death was just standing behind him doing nothing and all around him a bloody red version of the city he had lived in all his life was going down in flames. Definitely not the best of his days.
Eventually Vimes reached out a hand to touch Vetinari's shoulder, half expecting to pass right trough it, as a propper ghost should do. So he was almost shocked when his skin collided with the very real seeming fabric of the other man's robe. Apparently being dead wasn't that different from being alive, provided everyone else was dead as well.
Vetinari flinched at the touch but Vimes refused to give in to the sudden urge to get his hand back while it was still connected to what he believed to be his body and hide behind the nearest rock. Instead he took what was left of his courage and wrapped his arms around the man to pull him close before he could do anything to stop him. Vetinari went stiff for a moment, but Vimes grinded his teeth and refused to let go while he felt his heart pound wildly in his chest which was just pathetic, because he was dead, damn it, and shouldn't even have a heart and…
Something happened. In his arms Vetinari went limp and his thin body began to shake with soundless sobs. Sam absent-mindedly began to stroke his hair and for the first time his thoughts returned to his family, wondering if they had made it out safely. Death would know, he thought, but when he looked up, he saw that the world had begun to fade away. Death was nowhere to be seen.
Death allowed himself a sigh of relief when the two men began to fade away from this world. There were a lot of strange things going on, that much was sure, and he was glad that at least this little problem was solved. He would have hated to leave a job unfinished.
With the skullish version of a frown the reaper of mankind looked around once again. He had never been in this strange, red-coloured place before, which meant more or less that this sphere had not existed yesterday. Something strange was going on, indeed.
At least these two humans were gone, he thought as he turned to take care of the countless other beings that were ending their lifes this day. So he didn't have to worry about them anymore.
He would not have been very pleased, had he known how wrong he was in this regard.
May 08, 2005